In our article last week, we looked at some lessons from the FEBC course on “The Interpretation of Prophecy” by Dr Paul Lee Tan. We continue our study of the future with various views of the Rapture.
o The Rapture
The New Testament teaching on the rapture is found in two proof texts – I Corinthians 15: 51-52 and I Thessalonians 4: 13-18. This spectacular event will be the very first occurrence in God’s prophetic calendar. Both passages describe what will happen to believers – both dead and living – when Christ returns.
The rapture is a “mystery”: “Behold, I shew you a mystery”. The word “mystery” from the Greek word “musterion” - used more than 20 times in the New Testament - does not mean “mysterious, baffling or secretive.” Rather, it has the idea of something unheard of before, something unrevealed, something newly made known. Continuing with his description of the rapture, the apostle Paul revealed that some of us may not see death but will be “raptured” at the coming of Christ: “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (I Cor. 15: 51-52). Our bodies will be miraculously transformed into incorruptible bodies which will last forever (I Cor. 15: 52c).
The rapture will happen suddenly – “in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye”. In a split second – the time needed for an eye’s twinkle – Christ will come “and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (I Thess. 4: 17).
Dr Tan, our lecturer, made an interesting observation: “We see the Lord coming ‘in the air’ not to the earth. Why? Our Lord, like a polite and enthusiastic Host, comes personally – ‘the Lord Himself’ – out of Heaven to receive us to His heavenly Home.”
o Views of the Rapture
This view, which is held by most, if not all our Bible-Presbyterian churches, places the rapture before the seven-year tribulation period. The tribulation passages, Revelation Chapters 6 - 18 are interpreted literally. This is in line with Revelation 3: 10 where the Lord promised to “keep thee (His church) from the hour of temptation” (tribulation period). Just like Lot, whom God rescued before destroying the sin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Church of Jesus Christ will be taken out before God metes out His judgment upon the earth.
This view also believes in a rapture of the Church. The only difference is that the Lord will take only true or “overcoming” Christians. The rest who are not prepared will go through the Tribulation.
Advocates of this view believe that the Church will be raptured in the middle of the seven-year tribulation. The first three and a half years will be bearable for the Church. Their understanding of Revelation 3: 10 – “I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation” – is that the Lord will rapture the Church just before the severe calamities of the great tribulation.
Those who hold to the post-tribulation rapture believe that the Church has to go through the seven years of tribulation before being taken out of the world to be with the Lord. The rapture and the second coming of Christ are interpreted as one single event, with hardly any intervening period. The role of Israel is greatly minimised, sometimes even absorbed into the Church. Their proof text is found in the Gospel of Matthew: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: 30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matt. 24: 29-31). It is obvious however, that this passage refers not to the rapture but to the second coming of Christ after the tribulation. (… to be continued)